Denzel Curry — Imperial
Without knowing anything about Denzel Curry, I took a blind leap into Imperial strictly on the recommendation of a friend. This turned out to be a really smart gamble, as the album completely blew my mind from the opening notes of "U.L.T.," until "If Tomorrow's Not Here" faded out some 38 minutes later. Since my initial forray, I've listened to this album somewhere in the neighbourhood of 3 dozen times — it's that infectious and well produced. It's also a very short, concise record with no wasted time, leaving the listener immediately wanting more.
Throughout almost the entirety of Imperial, Denzel Curry spits lyrics at a break-neck pace and rarely lets up. The density of each track's verses is impressive, moreso considering the breath control required to deliver some of the rhymes on this album. There are maybe a handful of throw-away lines on the album, and they are quickly forgotten a few syllables later. Curry's flow is a tight mix of clever word-play and technical emcee chops. The topics remain in the time-tested domain of aggressive rap: tales of drug deals, armed robberies, and general boasting. That said, Imperial does feature moments of introspection and self-consideration, even if the overall message of the record is a self high-five. "This Life" and the album's closing track give a glimpse at the deeper narratives Curry is capable of, while the bulk of the album is a collection of exceedingly catchy club bangers.
All told, Imperial is a solid collection; each track has its own bit of nuance, with "Sick And Tired" delivering the story of two men — on opposite sides of an armed robbery — and "Gook" is a hilarious, groove-laden tale about growing up as a misfit. The word is also a racially derrogatory term applied to Asians; this specific usage is reference to slang specific to Miami, Florida, which means "not with the 'in' crowd." Being a square from Canada, I was initially rather confused but the story checks out — to the best of my knowledge, no one is trying to "take back porch monkey."
"Knotty Head" manages to make Rick Ross listenable, which is no small feat in my world. (So far, only Killer Mike has managed this, so Denzel Curry is breathing some rarified air. As one would expect for a song featuring Rick Ross, the track is about selling drugs. In spite of the generic subject, both rappers deliver quality verses over an ethereal synth and minimalist beat. I don't mind tracks like this when they're done well, and "Knotty Head" is an excellent example of this.
The latter half of the album opens up the narrative with "Story: No Title" and, my personal favourite, "This Life" come off as a lot more human than the hyperbolic brutality and circumstances of the preceding tracks. "This Life" is especially catchy and memorable, and features a chorus hook that is longer than some of the verses — because why not? "Zenith" features the only other significant guest appearance on Imperial as Curry and Joey Bad$$ come together on a decent, though not very remarkable track. I'm not familiar with Joey Bada$$ and this wasn't a strong inducement to change that — I was not blown away, it wasn't that his contributions were bad.
The final track, "If Tomorrow's Not Here" is a perfect closer for this album. A ballad of self-reflection in the form of prisoner's narrative, the track has a casual groove and delivery with some poignant lines. With a little over a half-hour of blistering, vicious rap already in the bag, this track gives the listener pause to consider the deeper qualities of Curry's writing. Aside from a propensity for quality wordplay, and inimitable vocal delivery, Curry showcases a creative mind that puts both of these talents to optimal use. The closing track is a clear signal that there's more Rap Cliches 101 at work here.
While I am far from a rap expert, I have to give Imperial almost perfect marks. This is one of the best albums I have heard in a long time, regardless of genre. As a music listener, I love a release that just worms its way into my brain — where I have to actively stop listening to it so it doesn't become played-out. Curry's style really got my attention, I was impressed with the structure of his verses and the more I listened, the more I liked the actual content. I'm looking forward to see what Denzel Curry does next. Topping Imperial is going to be a tall order, but I heard enough to believe he could do it. One of the best rap albums of 2016 without question.
Release date: March 9th, 2016
Record label: CR Records
Denzel Curry — vocals
- Sick And Tired
- Knotty Head (feat. Rick Ross)
- Story: No Title
- Pure Enough
- This Life
- Zenith (feat. Joey Bada$$)
- If Tomorrow's Not Here (feat. Vares)
Published: April 28th, 2016.